November 3, 2011 • Athletic AdministrationCoaching

Expanding the summer ‘dead period’ makes sense

Most states across the country have a specified “dead” period in the summer when high school student-athletes are not allowed any contact with their coaches, nor are they allowed to utilize school facilities. The intention is to give athletes a much-needed break during their actual summer break.

Photo: Joe Mabel

While this seemingly new rule (most states have instituted this policy within the last decade) should be applauded, I contend it doesn’t go far enough. Typically, states mandate that the “dead” period is seven consecutive calendar days (a handful of states do have two-week “dead” periods). Of course, some schools slightly skirt the policy by having their week of no contact run during the 4th of July holiday, which is a day athletes generally are going to have off anyway.

I advocate giving student-athletes at least two weeks off in the summer and ask that athletic directors (and coaches) in states with only a single week off approach their state associations to increase this period. Much of my reasoning comes from the in-depth, benchmark, athletic-director survey conducted by our magazine.

We did not ask athletic directors specifically about the summer “dead” period, however, an interesting statistic coming out of the data is that 68.8% of responders report that “less athlete participation” is an area of concern for them. Yes, there are many factors as to why athletic directors are concerned about athlete participation, but running students ragged for 12 months a year has to be near the top of the list.

Today’s student-athlete already is stretched thin when considering stress from class workloads, athletic practice after school, involvement in other extracurricular activities, working a part-time job, finding time to be with their friends and actually squeezing in a few hours of sleep per night.

While older generations lament that “kids today” don’t know what it’s like to work hard, the opposite actually is true. Today’s teenagers are going full steam ahead for 52 weeks a year.

Now, instead of a welcome break in the summer, teenagers have the stress of mandatory workouts, training sessions and practices. Their only relief is a single, seven-day stretch in early July. Is this supposed to recharge their batteries and refresh their minds heading into the fall sports season? We’re talking about 16-, 17- and 18-year-old young adults — even the average, American, adult full-time worker gets two weeks off during the year. Can teenagers truly be blamed for giving up on athletics to focus on other activities and priorities?

Add into this that the American family now is primarily run by two working parents, which means true “family” time is diminishing. Parents are just as stressed as their teenagers when you consider having to drive the kids to practice, doing laundry, making dinner, taking care of the house and many other tasks required to keep a family running smoothly.

Summer used to be the time when families regrouped after a long school year, possibly took a vacation and spent quality time together. Now, confined by a much-too-short “dead” period, parents are forced to plan a vacation in a very defined window — many times, during the 4th of July holiday when everyone else is doing the same thing.

“Athletes need time off from any school participation so families can plan vacations and trips without feeling pressure from coaches and peers for not being there,” offered one of the athletic directors who participated in our survey. “It’s a year-round commitment for them and they need a break. They will not get it unless the state demands it.”

The pushback from some coaches on this issue is that players need structure and they need supervised sessions with trained professionals to improve their skills. This is true, but do coaches have to monitor every movement of their players for 365 days a year? Are 14 days away from the game in the summer going to derail an athlete’s career?

Your first job as an athletic director or coach is to protect your student-athletes. Remember, they are not machines — they are teenagers. Their bodies and minds need rest. You need to be the person advocating for this rest in the form of an expanded summer “dead” period.

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